A lot is said about NIMBYS, folks – usually homeowners – who oppose goods, institutions, or just plain old new things in their neighborhood (Not In My Back Yard), even when they are beneficial to the whole of society. There polar opposite gets very little attention, and are becoming increasingly worse, though not egregiously so. They are BATATistss (Build Anything Anywhere).
((Fulgencio Batista, dictatorial President of Cuba from 1952-1959, overthrown by the glorious Cuban Revolution. He was famous for the implementing horrendous torture techniques of revolutionaries and their suspected allies, like gouging their eyes out. He is admired by BATATistas))
The principle problem I have with many seemingly progressive urban advocates of development is that they do not want to challenge the capitalist framework of development. That is, they are perfectly willing to let decent, sturdy homes or commercial buildings be demolished for ambitious, bland, six-story apartment buildings with rents in excess of $2/foot for the next trove of Target’s corporate zombies.
I ran into this experience when living and serving on the neighborhood board of Linden Hills in southwest Minneapolis. While the community is titled strongly in favor of the NIMBYists, there was little opposition to the demolition of “affordable” bungalows for new, tasteless, single-family McMansions. A strain in the neighborhood, disgusted with the NIMBYists, were willing to let just about anything come in without opposition. One such project was 46th & France, which will have to be another sad chapter, itself.
That being said, the supporters in the neighborhood and on the board were not thinking about the parcels and lots that were ripe and ideal for redevelopment. One specific plot that had been talked about for five years was Famous Dave’s, a rather gross restaurant. Standing at one story and being largely an asphalt parking lot, it was rather underdeveloped, and right in the center of “downtown Linden Hills”. Ideally, the building would be razed and the vast parking lot would make the footprint of a new, multi-family apartment (or condo) building with first floor retail – preferably a liquor store and clinic :).
While neighborhood opposition stifled a series of projects on this parcel, there was but a peep about McMansions.
Ideologically, what this is about, is not falling to the interests of a single developer. The fine-grained neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul should essentially remain the same in their material essence. Surface parking lots, single story commercial buildings, obsolete warehouses, and yes, truly dilapidated housing should be the parcels where a focus on development is made. Just because some rich asshole owns two houses and wants to build an elegant, glossy condominium building in a neighborhood with either a) no new development, or b) high demand for new housing, doesn’t mean we should let him on the merit of property rights.
We ought to see all the land in the city as essentially belonging to all people in the city – and yes, that is very collectivist and communistic. That’s why I’m writing this blog. I do not advocate for government ownership of all the property, especially the built property, of the city, just the land and its “use”.
Challenging the framework of capitalism, of which private property rights are essential, means not accepting the petty dictates of a developer (like the rich assholes I referenced earlier). Our neighborhood Master Plans actually do a decent job at identifying ideal locations for redevelopment and new development. Under a planned economy with strong influence of the neighborhoods, we could build a better city for the vast majority of people, without destroying good, aesthetically pleasing homes in the process.